The United Kingdom (UK) has become the first country in the world to license a vaccine against COVID-19, thus paving the way for large-scale immunisation. It has approved the vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and will start vaccinating those most at risk from next week.
Britain has purchased 40 million (4 crore) doses of the BioNTech vaccine, which has been shown to have 95% efficacy in its final trials.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “The government has accepted the recommendation from the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) to approve Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for use. This follows months of rigorous clinical trials and a thorough analysis of the data by experts at the MHRA who have concluded that the vaccine has met its strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness.”
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is the authority in the UK under the Department of Health and Social Care to regulate medicines and medical device in the country and ensure they are safe.
On who gets the first shot, the government spokesman said that the UK’s vaccine committee will decide the priority groups. However, it goes without saying that care home residents, health and care staff, the elderly and people who are clinically extremely vulnerable will get priority. Each person would need two jabs and the “bulk” of the 40 million doses would be available in the new year.
Britain’s health secretary Matt Hancock said the government aims to vaccinate all its citizens “as rapidly as the company can manufacture”.
The health secretary expressed hope that “from Easter next year, the country could return to some normality and indicated that no restrictions would be needed by summer 2021”.
Hancock said the vaccination programme is challenging because the doses need to be kept at -70C. He said that specialist vaccination centres were being built for the purpose.
Both Pfizer-BioNTech and U.S. biotech firm Moderna have shown more than 90% effectiveness.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said, “Britain’s emergency use authorization marks a historic moment in the fight against COVID-19. This authorization is a goal we have been working toward since we first declared that science will win, and we applaud the MHRA for their ability to conduct a careful assessment and take timely action to help protect the people of the U.K.”